A Document Unlocks a Life: Francis McManus

31st Infantry in Russia

When conducting family history research sometimes a single document holds the key that unlocks an ancestor’s story that otherwise has been forgotten. Just such a document revealed itself while I was conducting research into the history of my great-grandmother Elnor Josephine McManus’s (1890-1975) family. This document, concerning her brother Francis (Frank) McManus’s (1886-1935) admittance to a veterans facility in Los Angeles in 1930, allowed me to travel with him from Ohio to Siberia and back.


The McManus family immigrated from Ireland to the United States in the first half of the 19th century. My third great-grandfather, also named Francis McManus (1837-1883), settled in Hamilton County, Ohio and served in the 57th Ohio Infantry regiment during the American Civil War. The elder Francis McManus would raise his family in the region and his son, John Francis McManus (1860-1939) would do the same. John Francis would marry Josephine Foote (1865-1904) in 1882, the daughter of another Ohio Union veteran.

Francis McManus Record
Francis McManus’s 1930 admission for to the Sawtelle Home for Disabled Veterans, Los Angeles, CA. This document provided me information I used to explore Francis McManus’s life further.

Francis was the oldest of seven children, three brothers and three sisters, of John Francis and Josephine. Two of his sisters would die in childhood, Josephine at 8 and Bernadette at 10, but his other four siblings would grow to adulthood. His mother Josephine would die in 1904, leaving his father to raise the large family. Very little is known about his education, though he was obviously educated, as he went on to work as a surveyor and engineer later in life.

Francis, still living at home in Ohio, was recorded in the 1910 census working as a machinist at a paper company in Cincinnati. Sometime shortly after that, and for reasons unknown, Francis headed west to the bay area of California. There he would meet, and eventually marry in the summer of 1911, Mary E. Stewart of Berkeley, California. The couple would be living in the Provo, Utah area by the time Francis registered for the draft at the beginning of World War One. He was working as a surveyor for the Phoenix Construction Company.

His draft registration in June 1917 recorded Francis’s place of birth as “Sincenata [sic], Ohio”, that he was supporting a wife and child, and that he claimed no exemptions from military service. Within a year’s time, and how it happened is yet unknown, Francis would lose both his wife and child and find himself living with his mother-in-law in Berkeley, California.

About the time that Francis found himself back in San Francisco, the United States Army had determined to send an expeditionary force to Siberia to secure allied supply lines, specifically the important Trans-Siberian Railroad and the coal it provided. Two American regiments from the Philippines, the 27th and 31st, were selected and recruiting to augment those units was occurring on the west coast. Francis, having lost his wife and child, enlisted with the 31st Infantry Regiment on 8 May 1918 knowing he would be shipped to Siberia shortly after.

USTS Thomas's Passenger List
Francis McManus departed San Francisco for Vladivostok, Siberia with the 31st Infantry Regiment on the USTS Thomas.

Francis McManus was 31 when he enlisted as a Private in the 31st Infantry Regiment destined for Siberia. Given his age and his profession as an surveyor/engineer it is not surprising that he was assigned to the unit’s Headquarters Company for the duration of his service, eventually achieving the rank of Corporal before being discharged.

The 31st Infantry Regiment was stationed along the Trans-Siberian Railroad for nearly two years, though Francis was there only until his enlistment expired in October 1919. During its tenure in Siberia the regiment fought off both sides of the Russian Revolution intent on gaining control of the railroad and the territory it traversed. The 31st Regiment recorded 30 deaths and 60 wounded in combat, and over a hundred dead from disease, during their service in Siberia. A large number of soldiers also lost fingers, toes and limbs from frostbite in the Siberian climate.

McManus Family, c. 1920.
The McManus Men (Francis in front). This image was likely taken after Francis’s return from service in Siberia.

After returning to the United States in 1919, very little of Francis’s life is documented until he appears in the 1930 census records. That spring he was working as an engineer with the Cincinnati Union Terminal Company, which at the time was in the process of construction of the iconic terminal. That Francis was suffering physically and mentally from his Siberian service, and even perhaps the loss of his family that predated it, is apparent by the end of 1930.

Francis returned to California in late 1930, but not to work or visit his in-laws. His destination this time was the Sawtelle Veterans Home located in what is today Los Angeles, California. He was admitted 4 December 1930 diagnosed as suffering from impaired vision and “neurasthenia”, more commonly referred to as “shell shock”. Francis was only 44 years old when he arrived at the home, but would die at the home only 4 years later. He is buried in the Los Angeles National Cemetery (Section 55, Row E, Site 1).

Often times one document can unlock an ancestor’s life in such a way that they no longer remain anonymous to family and history. What documents do you own that can help me tell your family’s story?

© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.

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